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  • Writer's pictureSteve Brown

Undead Water Project Crawls Out of Grave, Again

The Cadiz Water Project is like the Angel of Death for the eastern Mojave
The Cadiz Water Project is like the Angel of Death for the eastern Mojave

Like a bad horror film, the Cadiz Water Project gets a stake driven through it's cold, dead heart at the end, only to crawl out of its grave for the next sequel. And just like watching an awful B-movie horror flick, we know how it will end, and so it seems, does Cadiz. The real question is do the funds and firms who own shares of their stock? That seems to be the audience the beginning of the latest sequel may be targeting.

On Friday, August 30, Cadiz hit the PR airwaves with a new press release: Environmental Impact Report Addendum for Cadiz Water Project Confirms Safety and Sustainability. The subtitle is: New document adopted by lead public agency incorporates additional detail on planned operation, concludes no significant environmental impacts associated with operations.

Well, that sounds like problem solved, SB 307 is dealt with, and smooth sailing lies ahead for this water project that would net Cadiz Inc. billions while endangering virtually all of the wildlife of the eastern Mojave Desert.

The press release reads like a high school paper from a student who partied over the weekend preceding finals and then adopted W. C. FIelds' advice, “If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

The Cadiz press release deals with the fact that the Fenner Valley Water Authority adopted an addendum to the Cadiz Water Project's Final Environmental Impact Report and rehashes the fact that hired guns for the project dispute the findings of studies that firmly connect major springs in the Mojave to the aquifer that would be pumped for the Cadiz project. None of this is new, nor does it impact the requirements imposed by SB 307, so why rehash it? It's that W.C. Fields advice put into action - along with paraphrased wisdom from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - "It says a lot without tying you down to meaning anything."

For those who work their way through the press release, filled with important words, and restatement of PR-reviewed Cadiz-paid findings, it finally arrives at the fact that the project must comply with SB 307 and, "According to the State Legislature and Administration, the outcome of that process is not predetermined and will be carried out in an open, transparent manner based on science. Cadiz anticipates initiating that process next year. "

So, while the press release gives an impression that this addendum sets the record straight on the hydrological science of the relationship between aquifer and springs, it doesn't take the place of the required compliance with SB 307 at all. To further muddy the waters, so to speak, the press release reveals that it will support further study of the springs overseen by the Three Valleys Municipal Water District.

This is significant because Cadiz has been paying Three Valleys Municipal Water District to do studies all along. In fact, according to a story for the Sierra Club, by John Monsen, Cadiz has been funding the district up to $1,078,000 to research the impacts of Cadiz on the Mojave. So why would a water district that serves Claremont, Pomona, La Verne, Glendora and Covina with water be conducting studies on springs in the Mojave? Simple. They're one of the water agencies that have already signed a preliminary agreement with Cadiz to purchase water.

"The initial study overseen by the Three Valleys Municipal Water District costing $100,000 was released in March with a follow-up $200,000 “Phase I” study announced in June," noted Monsen.  "Such research is extremely unusual for a water district to conduct, especially with the funding coming from the corporation whose project is under review."

And how does the Fenner Valley Water Authority figure into all of this? Monsen explained, "Skeptics of the water district’s research like the National Park Conservation Association’s Neal Desai point out that not only is Cadiz funding funneled through an intermediary, the Fenner Valley Water Authority, but the self-described 'independent' review’s lead consultant, Aguilogic CEO Tony Brown, is a Cadiz advocate. 'Criticisms of the Project’s hydrology are scientifically unsupportable,' said Brown in a Cadiz press release in 2013. 'The Cadiz Project can be intelligently managed to provide a new beneficial use without any harm.'  He has written an op-ed advocating for the project to be built and his legislative opinions (which supported those of Cadiz) were posted on the company website. He participated as a reviewer in a 2018 Cadiz study of desert springs."

Three Valleys does its best to green-wash their new study by noting: "The first phase will involve forming a study team, with invitations to the National Parks Conservation Association, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other groups. Further study at Bonanza Spring will include a geophysical survey, installation of monitoring wells and a weather station, spring flow and vegetation monitoring, and updates to the groundwater flow model. An interim report is expected in early 2020 with a final report due in July 2020. "

You can send an invitation to the Pope too, but that doesn't mean he's giving you God's blessing. One representative for an environmental organization opposed to Cadiz noted, "They’re pretending to do an end run around SB 307 for gullible investors. The addendum was apparently required for their attempt to reroute the pipeline around SLC (California State Lands Commission) land. But Cadiz knows perfectly well that SLC won’t buy any fake studies. This is all about exit strategy for the principals."

The release notes the new study will be conducted by the same company as before, run by an advocate of Cadiz. "The study will be led by Anthony Brown of Aquilogic, Inc., who also participated in the earlier peer review. Funding for the work will be provided by Fenner Valley Water Authority, a joint powers authority that will operate the Cadiz project and implement the Groundwater Monitoring, Mitigation and Management Plan. "

According to the Cadiz press release, "Environmental NGOs critical of the Project have also been invited to participate in the study plan and potentially help fund the study." Chris Clarke, California Desert Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association laughed out loud when asked if the NPCA would be participating. It would not participate, nor fund, the study, Clarke said. To the best of his knowledge, Clarke noted, no environmental organization that opposed Cadiz would be participating with the study on any level. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Clarke noted, had dismissed previous studies funded by Cadiz, and CDFW is a cooperating agency with the State Lands Commission under SB 307.

Now, you'd have to be a P.T. Barnum-level fool to think that environmental groups concerned about the survival of wildlife in the Mojave would throw cash at a study conducted by the same folks who have consistently created Cadiz-funded "PR-reviewed" studies in the past, but it sure sounds magnanimous to invite them to pay for a new one. And here's why - while earlier in the press release, it sounded as if Cadiz was accepting there would need to be completely independent scientific review of the hydrology and environmental impacts of the project in order to comply with SB 307, the end quote from the company's CEO, seemingly contradicts that and thinks a company-funded study carried out under the auspices of a water agency that has an agreement to receive water from the project, qualifies as independent scientific review.

“With the approval of the Addendum followed by the completion of the Three Valleys sponsored study, a full record will be available, openly and transparently compiled, that can answer any reasonable question about the Project’s potential impact on the mountain springs,” said Scott Slater, Cadiz CEO. “We believe this comports with the State’s intention as expressed in the Governor’s signing message for SB 307 to improve confidence in the Project’s ability to safely and sustainably make new water available to 400,000 people in Southern California and we look forward to a robust year ahead for Project evaluation.”

Clarke said as far as he was concerned, Cadiz is dead. But out in the hemp fields of Cadiz, a gnarly, withered hand claws its way through the caliche to the surface of the Mojave. It's "The Return of Cadiz." The sequel has begun.

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